'Jailhouse' attorney in waiting

By Marie E. Matyjaszek

There are many times when a lawyer has dispensed advice that his client did not want to hear, and did not heed. This can be problematic on both ends, because the client could end up in legal trouble, and the lawyer may decide that it’s just not worth staying on the case if the client refuses to accept his wisdom. For one man, however, not taking his lawyer’s advice was the right move.

In 2013, attorney David Wenger of Grosse Pointe was representing a client in immigration court. This particular client had been convicted of criminal sexual conduct in the past, which is not exactly a “small” crime.  Wenger knew of this conviction and was aware it would not be looked upon favorably by the court.  The real problem began when he advised his client to lie about it to avoid deportation.

It all came tumbling down when the client was testifying, and at an apparent moment of moral clarity, admitted to all of his wrongdoings.  Unfortunately for Wenger, he also disclosed what his attorney had advised him.

The prosecutors in Wenger’s case had more evidence to throw at him – a recorded conversation between Wenger and the client while the client was in jail, and a particularly damning e-mail that Wenger sent, in which he was adamant about his decision to not disclose the conviction.

Wenger was recently sentenced for his part in all of this, and received a whopping 18 months in prison.  This was not the first time that his ethics have been called into question – in looking at the State of Michigan Attorney Discipline Board’s website, his slate is anything but clean.  Starting February 22, 2016, his law license will be suspended for 2-1/2 years, to run consecutive to the 180-day suspension he previously received. In the most recent Notice of Suspension, it provides various reasons for the decision, among those being Wenger’s violations involving client funds.

With his license to practice law gone, Wenger may consider taking up the profession of “jailhouse lawyer” while serving his time.  That might prove easier for him, since I’m pretty sure ethics are in short supply in prison.

The author is a family law attorney. She can be reached at matyjasz@hotmail.com.